Mercedes Russell - The Best Is Yet To Come
Just her first name lets you know that USA U16 National Team member Mercedes Russell is no ordinary 15-year-old basketball player.
Acknowledging that she doesn’t know how her parents came up with her first name, Mercedes, like the automotive company she shares her name with, is developing a reputation for quality.
The post player, who is just 15 years old and will turn 16 on July 27, is smooth and fluid on the basketball court. At times she plays like a guard. Possessing excellent ball handling abilities and a velvet shooting touch, when opposing coaches realize she stands 6-foot-5, it leaves them shaking their heads.
As just a sophomore this past season, she led Springfield High School in Oregon to a 27-2 record and the state 5A championship. Averaging 24.5 points, 14.0 rebounds and 5.0 blocks per game, she was named the 5A Player of the Year by Oregon coaches and was selected MVP of the state tournament.
“She's the complete package of someone who's 6-5," her high school coach Bill Wagner told OregonLive.com. “She doesn't get showcased out on the perimeter -- obviously we put her down low because of how she can handle the block -- but she can shoot the three. She's the type of kid who can control the game in so many facets.
"She can just take over games with her play."
When she arrived May 26 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., for the USA Basketball Women’s U16 Trials, she didn’t know any of the other 114 players who were also trying out for a spot on the USA U16 National Team. But rest assured by the time the trials were competed, she was known by all, especially the USA U16 coaching staff.
USA U16 head coach Jill Rankin Schneider, a 1980 Olympian, University of Tennessee All-American and very successful Texas high school coach, sees a bright future for Russell.
“I think she’s got lots of ways her game is going to get better because of her versatility and her size. She is a really good ball handler for 6-5, and she’s smooth around the basket and I don’t think she’s even begun to tap what she’s going to be able to do.
“I think the sky is probably the limit for her with that size, with that versatility and with the kind of kid she is -- her work habits and just her diligence as a player. She’s a real compliment to this team, we plan to get the most out of that 6-5.”
While the basketball country may just be learning her name, Coach Schneider knows Mercedes is just beginning to realize all that she can become on the court.
“I don’t know that she has a clue how good she can be because she is really just a sophomore, she’s getting ready to be a junior, and kids that young can make leaps and bounds of improvement overnight. Before long she’ll be getting rebounds off the glass and shooting ‘em before she even comes down, and she’ll be doing right and left hand lay backs underneath, out front, she’s just has got lots of potential. I would say knowing her personality and just her as a young lady, she probably doesn’t have a clue (how good she can become) because she is very humble, but boy there’s a lot of potential there.”
Mercedes talked with USABasketball.com on a wide variety of subjects after a recent USA practice.
From the Trials to now and the team training camp, are you feeling more comfortable?I’m definitely getting used to it. Our training is different than the trials, it’s way harder obviously because it’s a team. It’s good competition all around, everyone is good, and everyone can shoot.
How much do you think this experience will help you?
A lot because you’re playing against players just as good as you. When you don’t play against good players then it doesn’t help you. But when you play against players that are just as good as you, it makes you better and better and better.
Did you have a big growth spurt?
Yeah, between eighth, ninth and 10th grades. In eighth grade I was 5-11 maybe, then freshman year I was like 6-3 and then sophomore year I was 6-5.
Is your mom tall?
Not at all.
Is your dad tall?
So where does your height come from?
My grandpa, he was 6-4, and my cousin is 6-4 too.
When did you start playing basketball?
Since you only really started to grow in eighth grade and you started playing in first grade, do you think your game has a lot of characteristics of a guard? You seem very fluid; you handle the basketball well and as you showed in Sunday night’s scrimmage (where she made 6-6 FGs) you can shoot the ball.
Well I use to be a guard in middle school, so I’ve played mostly guard and I didn’t really play post until my freshman year.
What part of basketball do you enjoy?
I’d have to say probably the competition. I like winning, competing against other people.
Your Springfield High School team won the Oregon 5A state championship this past season. Was your team expected to win it?
A lot of people thought we would and some people thought we wouldn’t, but we came out on top.
In the championship game (where her team defeated West Albany H.S. 42-40 and she recorded 24 points and 16 rebounds) we were actually down by 10 in the third quarter. Our coach called a timeout and told us 'We’ve been here before, just calm down' and then we came out and we came back and won it. (Note: Mercedes scored seven points in her team’s 10-2 run that ended the third period, and scored off a layup to tie the game with 17 seconds remaining).
What can contribute to this USA team?
Probably versatility, because I can post up and I can shoot.
What will it take for this team to win a gold medal?
Just working hard every day. Coming to practice, working hard and coming together as a team.
Have you been in a similar situation like this, maybe with a select team or all-star team?
No, this is a completely new situation.
Do you think this experience will impact your game next season?
Yeah, I know it will make me better all round pretty much.
What do you like to do when you’re not playing basketball?
I like to hang out with friends, go shopping, going to the movies, all that. I like to bowl too. It’s a fun game.
Are you a good bowler?
Well I haven’t done it in a while so I don’t know.
You played volleyball when you were younger?
Yes, I played it up until seventh grade. It was fun but I got bored so I quit and put more focus on basketball.
How have things been at the U.S. Olympic Training Center?
It’s fun. It’s really nice here. You get to hang out with friends and bond and stuff.
Did you know many of these players who are on the U16 team?
No, I didn’t know any of them until the trials.
Favorite sports website: ESPN, Hoopgurlz.
Favorite non-sports website: Twitter, Facebook.
Favorite class: Math.
Favorite basketball player: Kobe Bryant.
Favorite basketball team: Los Angeles Lakers.
Favorite non-basketball Olympian: Michael Phelps.
If you could be a standout athlete in another sport, you’d play: Volleyball or softball.
Away from the court, you enjoy: Shopping, going to the mall, movies, hanging out.
Most interesting place you’ve visited: Hawaii.
Can’t live without: Basketball, family, friends and a cell phone.
Favorite basketball memory: Winning the state championship this season.
If you weren’t playing basketball, you’d: Be playing volleyball or softball.
This right hander wears No. 21 because: it’s always been my number.